Walking the Vegan Walk

April 12, 2010

“Pig” by Mink Shoes

An animal-friendly lifestyle is uncomplicated when it comes to food, cosmetics, cleansers and clothing. The challenge has been finding shoes that bear any degree of fashionability. Sneakers, sure, and flip-flops galore. But nary a club-worthy stiletto or corporate pump. The notion that quality footwear must be leather is long-held. But that’s changing. Vegan shoe offerings have greatly expanded, without harming so much as a flea.

In other words, the vegan walk is catching up with the vegan talk.

Rebecca Mink is a Beverly Hills celebrity stylist turned vegan shoe designer and manufacturer. She became a vegetarian at a tender age after a grade school classmate told her hotdogs are made from dogs. Later she went vegan and influenced several family members to do likewise. Troubled by the disparity between her personal values and retail realities, she founded Mink Shoes in 2000. The road was a rocky one. She traveled to Italy, where 16 cobblers rejected her quest for beautiful cruelty-free footwear until the Marco Gambassi family agreed to apply generations of artistry to her ideas. After she had samples to exhibit at shoe shows, buyers and retailers ignored her. Today they are seeking her out.

“The green market has arrived, and we are expanding like crazy,” she says.

The Mink Shoes collection includes pumps, spikes, platforms and flatties, all assembled by hand. Animal skins and pelts are verboten. Rebecca even developed a hardy glue that uses no animal byproducts. She designs with a sensual sophistication and an occasional touch of whimsy. Her “Pig” model, for example, is a hot-pink strappy stiletto sporting dime-sized crystals.

Other leading vegan shoe entrepreneurs are designers Elizabeth Olsen of Olsenhaus and Stella McCartney. Erica and Sarah Kubersky, sisters and Moo Shoes retailers in Manhattan, created a line called Novacas, which translates to “no cow” in Spanish. Expect to see more lines in the near future.

It’s worth noting that animal-friendly doesn’t necessarily mean earth-friendly. Many of the manmade leathers used in vegan shoes are oil derivatives. Some insiders suggest that vintage is a viable option, but you must be careful. Kate Shifrin is a Chicago stylist whose company, “Come Flea With Me,” leads expeditions to vintage and flea markets around the world. She says she frequently encounters footwear crafted from cheetah and other exotic furs. To me, that’s creepy. I shudder even at faux fur, which I fear is a gateway fashion to the real thing.

I am not a vegan. I’m just a very picky eater. I won’t eat any food with fat, bones or gristle. I enjoy an occasional filet mignon or tuna fish sandwich, but I feel a little guilty about it. I’m not sure which side of the menu I’ll eventually end up on, but I’ll never give up cute shoes.

Postscript: Mink Shoes are now available at http://www.zappos.com.